Mummy’s back in graduate school

During my Masters degree, I began looking into a PhD. I needed a wider range of opportunity and consideration. I wanted to look at media that is more than broadcast, and that doesn’t pretend to be objective.

So I ventured forth to the ATLAS building on campus and annoyed/asked people there for guidance and advice.

First I joined the Doctoral Seminar group at ATLAS. A 1-hour, 1-credit required class for ATLAS PhD students that is as much about giving them a sense of community as it is about content delivery. My idea behind it was to ‘suck it and see’ – I wanted to see what the students were like, what ATLAS was like, what their idea of ‘multidisciplinary’ really was, and how they all worked together to find out if it was a fit for me. In that class I met the amazing students who became good friends, and were interested in the same broad things as I was.

Me in pre-school. Amazing. So much, yet so little has changed.

Big kudos to Jill Van Matre, Associate Director at ATLAS who put up with me not knowing who I was; and the instructor for seminar that semester, Mark Winokur – both of whom cleared my acceptance even though I was not part of the PhD program and I was the first to ask them to take me. They took a risk. The type of risk that sees the future rather than the present. A good risk.

Through the rest of the Masters, I unliaterally took classes that would assist in my application for the ATLAS PhD program. I stressed over my GPA when many were past that phase. I was told repeatedly variations of ‘nobody’s ever gotten in from the SJMC before’, ‘funding is a real issue’, and even ‘ATLAS might not be taking any new PhD students at all, you know’.

I opened metaphorical doors and windows for funding opportunities and alternatives in case it didn’t work out. I stopped talking about my plans with people without vision, and I wrote a thesis on online communities. I ignored the fact we have no money.

I applied

ATLAS accepted four new PhD students this year. All four are women. I’m one.

I’m working in the ConnectivIT lab with my advisor, Leysia Palen. The lab looks at human centred computing (HCC). In particular, Project EPIC (Empowering People in Crisis) seeks to understand how people use technology when there are heightened areas of fear and personal loss at stake – in disasters such as Haiti, bushfires and floods. Far from just using social media to organise a Happy Hour meetup, I’ll be helping produce work that aids emergency personnel and individuals save lives.

However, there is math. But I have lots of friends who will help me understand it, or at least pour the wine when it all gets a little much. Statistics for Dummies is online. I found it 🙂

Lessons learned

This is just the beginning of this part of the journey, but I learned a lot in getting to this point. I thought you’d like to hear some things:

* Don’t look for reasons ‘why you should not do it’ – there is no need to look for those – everyone will throw them at you. There are plenty. Look inside for your own reasons ‘why you should do it’. There are fewer of them, and they might not make sense to some people, but they’re way more important.

* Listen to the warnings/negatives of everyone, and use them to prepare and plan for ways around issues. Be conscious of things like you have no money. Work out ways around the money thing. Clip coupons. Get used to free things. Don’t be too proud.

* Make strong connections. From the admin person through to the Dean. Everyone is important. It’s not strategic. It’s just being a nice human being. It will pay you back. Just don’t expect it to, and it will. (Does that make sense?)

* Don’t get angry. Many times people say you can’t. That’s because they’re not willing to. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean it’s the same for you.

* Finally, don’t worry about how you’ll manage next year (time, kids, money etc). Just eat that elephant a bite at a time, and worry about it as it happens. Every journey is different, and for women who wear so many hats, we are the essence of innovation. Keep stumbling forward.

* Smile, laugh and love every step. Lots. See the funny side. Sure, it shows you are a little bit crazy. Crazy’s good.


  • Ha! I know you’re being funny too, but in case some think this is serious… No such thing as RPL in the US. Instead, it’s called get accepted (which is hard enough) and then do the class. But I will be able to carry some credits over from the Masters – although not all schools within universities agree on that. It’s about the same bureacratic nightmare as you have in Australia. In fact, probably more because there’s no national framework anywhere.

  • yay jo i’m psyched to have you nearby for this ride… 🙂 see you in stats in an hour

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